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What is Old is New Again

dumbterminalI started my career in the mid-nineties with IBM Canada selling AS/400 midrange computer systems. IBM had just made the move from a 48-bit CISC-based processor to the 64-bit RISC processor. To a kid fresh out of school, the only difference I saw was the box was now black where it had previously been white. I was a little reluctant to take the job with IBM because the AS/400 was already a bit “long in the tooth,” and what was with the green-screen dumb terminals?

A couple of years earlier I had completed a sixteen month co-op term with IBM and was introduced to technology like Lotus Notes, OS/2 Warp and the world wide web. To me, this green-screen world would be left behind, where everyone seemed to be moving to the PC world. I quickly learned that the AS/400 was one of the most stable, reliable and secure systems out there. The notion of “centralized” computing made sense to me; where the logic all resides on the “host” and the client screens are non-intelligent devices. From a security perspective, the SNA protocol was way more reliable and secure than TCP/IP. However, by the late 90s the notion of “Client/Server” computing was going to change the world. My once very loyal AS/400 customer base was now looking at moving their ERP applications to (gasp!) Windows. Why run only one rock-solid server when you can run many not-so-rock-solid servers? This made little sense to me and I was forced to start selling IBM’s Netfinity line of Windows servers. I’ll leave that one alone!

Fast forward to present day. Low and behold, the AS/400, now called IBM i, is still alive and well. Sure, many companies have moved off of this platform to the promise of less-expensive commodity-based servers, but IBM’s i architecture continues to have an enormous loyal following. Yes, x86 Windows-based servers have certainly improved over the years, and certainly many IT shops have moved to a more “decentralized” computing approach… the client/server model that would save us all.

I am sure many IT administrators would long for the days of green-screen terminals where things like viruses and malware were non-existent, and we were very familiar with BYOB and not BYOD. But as the title of my article indicates, what is considered old is now new again with the wide acceptance of virtual desktop infrastructure or VDI. This solution allows a Windows desktop session to be run on a server in the datacenter and securely viewed by many end users. Ultimately, IT can now manage a handful of Windows images instead of hundreds of physical PCs. The client device can be one of many devices; a repurposed “fat” PC, tablet, thin client or even a smartphone… otherwise known as a dumb terminal! As with many things in life, what goes around comes around, and the concept of secure centralized computing has come back around, even for Windows desktops.

As for Able-One Systems, I am delighted we are rooted in the heritage of IBM’s venerable system i, and enjoy a loyal customer base. VDI and server virtualization have also become a very important part of our business as customers evaluate and deploy these technologies as well. Here’s to another awesome 25 years with Able-One Systems !!

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Todd Cox is the Chief Technology Officer and co-owner of Able-One Systems. For more information on IBM i and desktop/server virtualization, please e-mail Todd at todd.cox@ableone.com.

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